Monday, December 06, 2010 2 reflections

Mukhaputa - A movie review

As is usually the case, most watchable Kannada movies go unrecognized unless they get some non-local award. As sad and tragic as it is, it continues to be one of the banes of a once flourishing and creatively vibrant film industry that now reeks in the ruins ruled by mediocre-heavy jingoism. Fortunately, 'Mukhaputa' avoided that inevitable fate into oblivion as it bagged an award at the Ireland Film Festival and the Silver Sierra Best feature film award at the California Film festival.

The story revolves around 7 year old Bhavati (quite an unusual and striking name) who is adopted by a social activist/PhD student/Bharatanatyam dancer Gauri (Roopa Iyer in her first debut venture as film maker) after the kid's parents commit suicide. Gauri is an orphan too, so the relevance of her understanding the kid's emotional distress at a deeper level than most comes as no surprise. The two bond quite naturally and soon she signs papers to become her official caretaker. Also in the loop are Gauri's foster father (Shashidhar Kote) and also her teacher/guide/philosopher. She turns to him for all sorts of guidance on both her career and life. With his untimely death Gauri's world is shattered more than that of his wife and unemployed son Shankar (a neat cinematic liberty naming his character that to ensure we are told that the he and Gauri would end up together at some point). The bereaved family takes care of little Bhavati as one of their own and time moves on.

One day Bhavati falls ill. On further investigation it is revealed that the child is HIV-positive which could possibly explain her parents' sudden deaths. Gauri is caught in a pool of dilemma on this discovery. On the one hand she definitely wants to ensure that Bhavati has as normal a childhood as she can get, but she also isn't sure how to go about it. On a chance encounter with an aged guru at a spiritual center, she gets some sane advise. An advise that is possibly the only deciding factor in how things are made and broken in today's world. That, of knowledge. She seeks out to know everything there is to know about the disease so that she may plan the best route to the future possible for Bhavati. Shankar, in the meanwhile, is shown to be an out of work IT guy who isn't really keen on doing anything special in life. Since he harbors romantic feeling towards Gauri (no points for seeing that coming) he decides to join forces with her in bringing warmth, love, affection and most importantly a sense of normalcy in little Bhavati's young life.

What struck me most about the movie was its optimistic take on something as dire as AIDS and its associated taboos in India. It is obvious that Roopa Iyer is personally vested in both the awareness and education of the disease given her commitment in making this feature come alive. Though her prowess as an actress could have been sharper, it doesn't really interfere much with the bigger picture/message the movie tries to send across. The supporting cast lend apt support including the little girl playing Bhavati. A few scenes are placed just to get a popular face into the mix but I guess it is only such marketing strategies that helped her get the movie across to these festivals. A slightly stronger screenplay was needed specially in the scenes where Gauri confronts Bhavati's teachers for isolating the child due to her illness. A grand opportunity to highlight the irony of an educator practicing blatant discrimination purely based on ignorance is woefully lost by Iyer. She chooses, instead, to smear the scene with a background score whilst making the goings on inaudible. The gist is clear of course, but a concrete vocalized version would have made the audience root more firmly for Gauri. It is in these inadequacies that Iyer's lack of experience in film making becomes apparent and makes her character more impersonal.

All said and done, 'Mukhaputa' is eventually about the bigger picture which is killing the social stigma associated with AIDS and the millions of innocent kids who are targeted each day around the world for absolutely no fault of their own. If even a few hearts are forced to reflect on their beliefs after watching this movie, then I'd think Iyer's efforts have found success.

Sunday, December 05, 2010 2 reflections

Momentary pathways

The city's been getting a rather generous amount of snowfall over the past few weeks. Today, being a Sunday and all, we decided to take a stroll around the neighborhood to enjoy some of the scenes of pre-Xmas shopping. Jaya snapped a quick one of me as we walked out and I, feeling a tad inspired by the photograph, penned a few words that came to me. And here it is now.

Clicking on the image will open the larger version.

Saturday, December 04, 2010 0 reflections

Phas gaye re, Obama! - A movie review

One of the biggest troubles Hindi movies (both commercial masala wallah types and the 'off beat' non-profit sort of ventures) have had is to dish out genuine comedies. Either they end up trying too hard using 'inspired laughs' from popular streams or they go over the top and plug in superhuman antiques lacing it with inane slapstick. Having, unfortunately, seen Golmaal 3, Dabangg and its kind recently, I was quite skeptical about 'Phas gaye re Obama' (PGRO) purely because of its blatant effort to somehow link the story to Barrack Obama. And of course, also that it had Neha Dhupia. She is certainly one of the best eye candies out there but I've never associated her with the concept of humor. But nevertheless, being the optimistic that I tend to be at times, I decided to give it a look-see.

The story unfolds in two separate tracks. One, that of an NRI (Rajat Kapoor) who has settled well with a wife and kids in the United States for the last 15 years and is shown to have been a successful businessman. Now, with global recession making its way into every possible financial crack, he is on the brink of bankruptcy and sees no other option than to sell off an ancestral home in his hometown in rural India. The second track, is that of a motley assortment of low budget gangsters who live in the same town. These men are traditionally into kidnapping and extortion but are facing immensely tough times with no money to even buy bullets. The two protagonists, hence, are brought together by fate. The kidnappers, not realizing the NRI's money situation, kidnap him and dream that his family in the United States will shell out a good amount of dollars to get him back. It takes an actual conversation with his wife in America for them to realize that he is as broken as they are. It is then, that the businessman's money minded brain and the ambitiousness of one of the gangsters starts mushrooming into a series of events where they come up with a nearly fool-proof scheme where everyone wins. It is in this merry go around of changing hands, that the hilarity of the movie becomes evident.

The premise is quite original. Showcasing the organized crime that takes place in the inner towns of India while juxtaposing it against a more global concept like recession is indeed a feat one should congratulate director Subhash Kapoor for. Add to it the simplicity of the small town India where people link everything American automatically to Obama and the FBI and the circle is complete. It is in such naivete and blissful ignorance that a crime as serious as kidnapping takes a more comic turn. If there is one reason why I'd recommend a definite one-time watch of this movie, it would be for such an accomplishment.

Performances belong to pretty much everyone with, again, Neha Dhupia standing out slightly as the odd woman out. I say woman because of her hate-all-men mantra as Gabbar Singh inspired Munni gangster(minus the Zhandu Balm,thankfully) avatar in the film. Sanjay Mishra is quite convincing as the aging and broke kidnapper kingpin who nurtures dreams of making it as a politician and breaking chairs in the Parliament. Manu Rishi (from Oye Lucky!) is back with his genuine dialog delivery and sincere yet effortless Dilliwallah style acting. Rajat Kapoor, however, takes the cake in this mixed bag of cronies playing the calm and collected NRI who is always a step ahead of the rest of the gang despite having had no prior experience with scheming kidnapping agendas. Just goes to show why an educated crook is much more dangerous than an illiterate one.

The film is devoid of needless songs (except a refreshingly welcome one as the credits roll) and stays focused on the plot the whole time. The pace tends to be a tad inconsistent at times but that could've been avoided with a tighter screenplay. The oscillating drama is stripped off of 'keep your brains at home' sort of humor and yet isn't a 'dark comedy' either. It runs a fine line between these two extremes by keeping itself simple and sane. A task most movies these days have absolutely no idea how to achieve without coming off as nonsensical. It is the subtleties that save PGRO from becoming contrived in its execution. A lesson, perhaps, for folks attempting comic reliefs in the future.

Recommendation: Go watch it. Yes, you can.